Every so often I come across language used in such a way that makes me wonder what the intent behind the words is. As we all know, sometimes the words said and the message conveyed are two very different things.
Recently, my son was playing with one of his birthday gifts, and I noticed this phrasing on the back of the package:
I’m real torn as to how I feel about this. What are your thoughts?
They had to register that phrase?!
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So… It’s NOT O.K. to be “not smart?”
I get what they were saying… “you’re not a nerd if you are smart,” right?
But, what if you aren’t all that smart?
I’m not real sure I like that either…
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Sometimes kids need to be told it’s ok to be smart. I have a student in class now who does not want to be known as smart or talented because (I love this) the popular kids on television shows are not smart, they are funny.
Smart isn’t cool until you have to get a job and support yourself. Then you value your talents. While I teach in a school with “gifted and talented” kids, they are still conscious of this label. As parents and teachers we value smart, but kids generally don’t.
When our culture values smart kids, then a label like that will no longer be necessary.
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You folks pretty much hit on why I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I think it (perhaps unwittingly) reinforces the cultural stigma put on children for being ‘smart’ (whatever that means). On the other hand, if the stigma exists, are we better off addressing it head on or ignoring it?
My son’s a precocious reader and all around bright kid (I know, every dad thinks that, but bear with me), but I already started seeing him “dumb himself down” in the company of peers as early as 4 or 5. So from that perspective, I appreciate the positive message, BUT…
My first reaction to that is: No, it’s *fantastic* to be smart. It’s also fantastic to be athletic, or artistic, or funny, or empathic, or a great cook. I don’t want to talk about what people *aren’t*, so I don’t really want to talk about whether it’s OK to be not-smart.
(There are a few traits that are not-OK in my book: vindictive, malicious, and willfully ignorant are the ones that come to mind.)
@jsb16 I think reading your comment has helped me to put my finger on what’s bothering me – “OK”. OK sounds consoling, like “Don’t worry, kid, it’s OK to be smart, really it is”. I don’t think I’d have as much of an issue if they said, “It’s great!” or even “So you’re smart. So what?” At least the message with either of those isn’t as mixed.
This is a really interesting sign. I believe our society views “smart” as people with high IQs. How about the society that views people with low IQs? We know the majority are not telling them it is okay to be smart. From an intervention specialist point of view, I feel all my students are smart. Each one brings qualities that make them “smart”; however, not what society calls smart.
If this sign is saying smart, as IQ, then I believe it is not appropritae. If this sign is saying smart, as qualities, then I believe it is appropriate.
I stress about smart/stupid terminology; once someone develops an idea of where they believe they are on that (false) spectrum, it seems to become impossible for them to honestly realize their individual strengths and weaknesses.
I’d rather focus on actions than on permanent qualities…I want kids to aim for focused effort and making informed decisions, and never feel like they’re stuck in a pigeonhole they can’t escape from.
Great point, Dave. I’ve seen too many kids identify as either/or and then feel they have to maintain that identity for better or for worse.
And I had also considered the “what do you mean by ‘smart’?” question. It’s awfully subjective. I’m a bright guy by most academic measures, but I don’t know how to change my car’s oil, dance the tango, or play snooker (and I’ve tried to learn all three of these at some point), so there’s the question of what constitutes ‘smart’.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad when my nephew was born. They were debating on what his nickname should be since they all had nicknames (not me because I raised by mom). My sister wanted to be a shortened version of his name or something cute but my dad said why not give him a nickname that will encourage him to do well in school like braniac. Of course my sister thought it was crazy but I understand where my dad was coming from. Why not give a kid a nickname that encourages him to be smart?
Better question why do we have to encourage kids to be smart? Because being smart is often seen as a negative. I agree that a better line would be it’s Wonderful to be Smart or some other word then just OK.
[…] the last “Words Mean Things” installment, I wrote about the unintended signals our words sometimes send. At least this magnet doesn’t have that […]